I, along with a huge swath of the nation, was simply stunned on Friday when watching the lead-up to the funeral for Nancy Reagan. Outside the large tent erected for the event was Hillary Clinton being interviewed about her recollections of the former First Lady. What she had to say was thoughtful and comforting. But then Clinton started spewing the most bizarre up-side down line of fantasy that made me wonder how much rest might be required to bring her to a state of awareness. I know presidential campaigns are taxing on the body but how does one explain what Clinton had to say about Nancy’s role with AIDS?
I was very much aware of the AIDS crisis in this nation during President Reagan’s terms. I was so upset with his administration’s lack of focus on the matter, and the way the fear of the disease was outpacing the facts that I made an effort to stem the tide.
I was working at WDOR radio in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin in the mid-80’s and with a small market station had more latitude than I might have found at a larger station. Our signal reached to Milwaukee at night and I decided to use the platform behind the microphone. So I researched, interviewed, wrote, packaged, and reported a week-long series which aired on most of the daily newscasts about AIDS. Each part was roughly 3 minutes in length. I had a serious and (humbly stated) well crafted product at a time it was seriously needed. I made clear AIDS was not ‘ a gay disease’.
So to hear Clinton say that Nancy Reagan was somehow instrumental in bringing AIDS awareness to the nation was simply galling.
I might remind Clinton that it was Americans like me who continually chastised President Reagan for not even talking about AIDS. It would not be until May 31, 1987 that he would even mention the topic in a speech. By then I was out of radio and working with a state legislator. I was in government and hearing from many who were as troubled by the lack of awareness as I had long felt.
By the time Reagan found his way to talk about AIDS more than twenty-five thousand people, the majority of them gay men, had died in the United States. It was shocking that our president had not noticed or cared.
But his callous disregard was not alone when it came to those in his White House. Those folks my age will recall that Reagan’s spokesman, Larry Speakes, made jokes about victims of AIDS at press conferences. And as we all know from living at that time Nancy Reagan famously and sadly refused to act in any way in 1985 to help her friend Rock Hudson when he was in Paris dying of AIDS.
I simply can not abide the lapse of memory that Clinton showed on national television with her revisionist history. As a former broadcaster who worked to inform my listeners, and as a gay man there is no way to stay quiet on this matter.
The fact is that Nancy Reagan did not act to help bring awareness to the AIDS epidemic when she had the power to do so. History will always show that to be true.